Spanish Food 101: Ingredientes y Miscélaneo

A culinary journey through Spain via the unparalleled medium of informal oral testimonies. This is written in English. If you would like a Spanish/Spanglish translation may I recommend reading slower, louder, and adding the letter “o” intermittently to the end of words. This is an appended addition to the series of this crash course in Spanish cuisine. An introduction to this tale can be found by clicking here, and you can see the earlier forays of this adventure by scrolling down and reading more of this blog, which I would recommend that you do anyway. 

And now for some stray thoughts and things that I couldn’t find an appropriate place to put in any of the other posts. Maybe I should have tried harder. But I am writing this on a plane, and it is a Ryanair flight so not a particularly comfortable way to type on a laptop. Battery is draining, sun is careening in through the window. No internet. This is where my effort is going. Consider this post Appendix O.

Aceitunas

1200px-Aceitunas

Or olivas. Olives to you and I. Most came with a stone in. A lot of eating in Spain is being comfortable picking food out of your mouth, and watching others pick food out of their mouths. The same statement can be made for Asia, only spicier (so having to watch people pant a little too).

We ate these as an aperitif. The mother asked me what aperitif was in English, and thinking that she meant an aperitif, I said it was the same. Of course, it is actually appetiser, or “app” if you like shortening words and are terrible. Or maybe “nibbles” if you are twee.

Spain is an unsung olive producing country. When you, or certainly I, think about the olive producing nations of the world it is usually Greece or Italy that comes to mind. Not so, or not only so. Italy often buys Spanish olives and repackages them with their Italian branding. There is something more alluring about Italy maybe, but more on that later. “They are better marketers” reasoned the father. This may be so.

Green olives are preferable to black olives on their own, and black olives are on the whole more popular to add to salads, paellas and other dishes that require a tang of olive.

You can buy olives from pretty much anywhere, including the airport. I don’t recall there being fridges with deli meats, cheeses and the like in the UK, but it is possible that I just spend too much time trying on sunglasses.

Fresh olives undeniably taste better. Often they are accompanied with pickled garlic, tomato or peppers. It is such a shame to have to return to jarred or canned olives. Please picture me looking longingly out of the window of the plane, which is what I am doing.

 

Allioli / Aioli

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The family do not buy mayonnaise. Nor do they serve ketchup, salt or vinegar with their homemade chips (did you know that in ESL textbooks “home-made” is an example of a compound adjective, yet the hyphenated version has been outmoded for several years. There is nothing like teaching your own language to make you question the inconsistencies, rules and fashions of it) as the seasoning comes in the cooking; chips are one thing that even they admit shouldn’t be coated in olive oil. No, the family do not buy mayonnaise, they make it, and often. For salads, for dips, for fun, for chips (that was for the rhyme. My statement of chips still stands).

Allioli is mayonnaise with garlic and is a popular accompaniment to rice dishes, namely arrosejat. Punchy, deep and rounded, it is a sauce which encapsulates Spanish cuisine. Try this and a salsa de tomate and you will have been given a very brief yet quite telling overview of the flavour profiles of Spanish cuisine. It acts well to bring out the richness of the stockier Spanish dishes. And, whatever, we can say that it allows you to have a vegetable with your mayo.

One of the daughters made a poster that said, in English, “do you like mayo with your ice cream?” I do not, but I am impressed at the thought process that went into that question coming into her mind and then the desire to make it into an A4 poster.

 

Maybe I Just Like Italian Food Better?

Pizza! (a note I left to myself under this heading).

As outlined in the introduction, my experience with Spanish food before coming to Spain was very limited. I expected it would be a poor man’s Italian food. A worse version of Italian food. And that Spain on the whole was a worse Italy. What I have found is more apples and oranges than this. Spain very much has its own personality, and the Spanish a caliente personality. Spanish food is perhaps better compared to Portuguese or Greek food, but then again no, each of these countries are distinct in their culinary and other traditions.

The Spanish are very proud of their cuisine. Outside of the big cities, you will predominantly find Spanish restaurants. At home, families eat Spanish food. Or Japanese food when they have fresh, fresh fish. But ninety percent of the time, Spanish food.

However, like every country that I have visited, Italian food is popular here. Gelato and pizza and pasta. You can put your Catalan or Spanish twist on it, but a gelato is a gelato, a cannola a cannelloni, and an expresso an espresso.

When I spent the weekend in Barcelona city with my friend, I insisted on a pizza and gelato afternoon as it had been three weeks since I had eaten pizza. “You have a three week limit on not eating pizza?” “I went three months without pizza in Asia and had one of the darkest periods of my life. It’s best to have some pizza when I can.” In the Gothic Quarter there is a row of pizza by the slice restaurants. I was unsure of what to order, and as I nearly gave up hope they put out a ham and vegetable pizza: exactly what I was looking for. The first bite of that slice was pure joy. Not the best pizza of my life, but pizza for the pizza starved is a well of life.

A pizza restaurant after a fair in Premia de Mar. The picky-eating cousin said that she didn’t like pizza. I nearly fainted.

“What do you want instead?”

“A bikini [cheese and ham toastie]”

“A pizza has cheese and ham and bread. You will like pizza.”

The emphatic happiness on that child’s face as she ate slice after slice of pizza was unrivalled for the rest of the week. Surely nobody can truly dislike pizza? This restaurant served a thin, quite crispy Neapolitan pizza which far exceeded my expectations. I had a capricciosa, and the mothers were sold on capricciosa as a pizza topping. The menu was quite extensive, which isn’t always a good thing, and the service variable, which showed that it was run by Italians.

You are never too far from a passable pizza in Europe. Or an Italian restaurant run by Italians. Goodness I love Europe.

In Spain the fish has been better than that which I had in Italy, but I have been fortunate enough to stay with pro-fish families, while in Italy I was purely a holidaymaker.

So what to say of Spanish food as a concluding comment? It is for the home, for the bar, and is the pride of its people. Mucho gusto. Muy bien.

“You are a girl who definitely loves Spanish food. Is good to see. We are glad.”

“I will miss the beach, the family, the weather, and, undoubtedly, the food.”

 

We are all abajo mismo sol. Spain’s just shines brighter – the light quality of Andalusia is the best I have come across in the world, as is the night sky. It is no wonder that it is such a popular location for filming. But now the sun has set on my Iberian adventure and the fasten seatbelt sign has turned on. The bell will ring for a timely arrival of Ryanair and I will return to eating the culinary stylings of the French. The son said that his favourite food is French – though couldn’t name a single French dish, nor did any of them know what boeuf bourguignon was – and invited himself around for dinner. The boldness of children, and the Spanish. While I may not actively opt to eat in a Spanish restaurant, any Spanish person who would be happy to have me in their home can extend an invitation and certainly expect a guest exclaiming “tengo hambre” y “delicioso”.

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